Opinion
    Next Score View the next score

    Renée Graham

    Siding with Louis Farrakhan would be a misstep in black America’s march ahead

    Louis Farrakhan leads the Nation of Islam.
    M. Spencer Green/Associated Press/File 2011
    Louis Farrakhan leads the Nation of Islam.

    LOUIS FARRAKHAN not some loopy old uncle who, every once in a while, toddles downstairs just long enough to say something blindingly offensive.

    Yes, Farrakhan, now 84, is old. Yet his recent comments about Jews and the LGBTQ community aren’t the bombastic rants of a tongue untied by age or diminished capacity. The Nation of Islam leader today is the same man he has been for more than a half-century — a raging anti-Semite, homophobe, and misogynist who never misses an opportunity to lob his ugly rhetoric.

    During his “Saviours’ Day” speech in Chicago last month, Farrakhan bellowed about the “Jewish-controlled media” and government. He claimed Jews are promoting “degenerate behavior in Hollywood, turning men into women and women into men.” He even floated a conspiracy that Jews and government officials have concocted a strain of marijuana to emasculate black men. “God did not create man to lay with man,” he said. “But you are being chemically programmed against your nature, you don’t know it.”

    Advertisement

    All of this sounds like the kind of stuff someone comes up with after smoking too much weed. Farrakhan droned on for more than three hours, his speech often punctuated by applause and agreement.

    Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
    Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    What really piqued some people’s interest and ire was the presence of Tamika Mallory, cochair of the Women’s March, at Farrakhan’s event. Her attendance wasn’t surprising. A year ago, she posted a photo on Instagram of herself with Farrakhan, calling him “definitely the GOAT,” meaning “the greatest of all time.” The Judge Judys of social media quickly swooped in to demand Mallory condemn Farrakhan, lest she undermine the national anti-Trump movement she is helping to lead.

    “I don’t agree with everything that Minister Farrakhan said about Jews or women or gay people,” Mallory said, though she stopped short of cutting her ties to him.

    “The brothers and sisters that I work with in the Nation of Islam are people too,” she told The Atlantic. “They are a part of the work that I’ve been doing for a long time and they are very much so ingrained in my anti-violent work of saving the lives of young black men and women.”

    I respect Mallory’s dedication to the Women’s March, especially in ensuring that the specific concerns of African-American women aren’t steamrolled by white feminism. I understand her loyalty to an organization, the Nation of Islam, which fired her own activism by reaching into some of the most disenfranchised members of the black community.

    Advertisement

    Yet I also think about the lives of young black men and women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, and how Farrakhan’s hate affects them. I see the horrors of anti-LGBTQ violence infecting my community, especially trans women of color. Siding with Farrakhan is a luxury that those who land outside his venomous sightlines can afford. That does not include me.

    Nor does it include those who suffered during a 57 percent jump in anti-Semitic incidents last year. That surge is the by-product of a president who recently used a white supremacist dog whistle — “globalist” — while talking about Gary Cohn, the Trump administration’s outgoing National Economic Council director, who is Jewish.

    You can’t stand against President Trump and stand with Farrakhan. Supporting Farrakhan doesn’t automatically make someone an anti-Semite or homophobe. Still, if such attitudes aren’t deal breakers, Farrakhan supporters are no different than Trump voters who ignored his racism for a tax break.

    Farrakhan’s game has always been is to uplift one group while grinding his heel in the backs of those whose oppression he willfully ignores. Members of marginalized groups recognize this is not progress.

    With his clout faded since the days when black politicians felt obligated to curry his blessing, Farrakhan now has only the headlines his anti-Semitism will garner to stave off irrelevancy. He should have been disavowed years ago. Instead, he’s no different than Trump, an old man roiling in conspiracies and bigotry who is far more like the president than his dwindling supporters would ever dare to admit.

    Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.